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E/I, which stands for "educational and informational" (or "educational and informative"), refers to a type of children's television programming shown in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that every full-service broadcast television station in the U.S. air at minimum at least three hours of these television programs every week to retain their station license. The E/I program requirements were enacted as part of the Children's Television Act of 1990.
In addition, stations must identify such shows on-screen with an "E/I" bug in a corner of the screen, usually either in the form of plain text or an icon as seen to the right; some display it in appealing or "child-like" fonts. Originally, this was displayed only during the first minute of the program, or, as a separate announcement prior to the program, but since 2004, all E/I shows must display the icon during the entire duration of the show, except during commercial breaks.
This requirement only applies to commercial broadcast television stations. Cable television channels are exempt from FCC television programming regulations, although some do place an "E/I" bug or descriptor on their educational programs, mainly to stick out within children's sections of electronic program guides. Colleges offer distance education, a curated form of educational television, which is unique to public, educational, and government access (PEG) cable television channels, and is carried by some public television stations.
In 2005, the E/I rule was altered again, in relation to digital broadcast television; all full-service stations that operate digital signals must carry the minimum weekly three hours of E/I programming on all of its digital channels, regardless of the type of content they carry (such as news, weather or niche entertainment programming).
In 2007, the digital subchannels' involvement in the E/I rule was changed again, depending on the number of free services offered by the station – the station now must carry more than three hours of E/I programming, but how much more is determined by how many hours of "free programming" the station offers in digital. For every 28-hour period of free programming offered on the subchannels, the station must add an extra half-hour of E/I programming, in addition to the three hours required on the main signal.
What makes shows "E/I"
What makes shows "E/I" is determined by the Federal Communications Commission, which enforces the regulations. The agency took a more hands-on role in enforcing the rules in 1996, after the first few years of the act were ineffective as stations claimed programs like The Jetsons, The Flintstones, G.I. Joe, daytime talk shows and Leave it to Beaver had educational elements.
At regular intervals, each full-service station submits a list of programs that it either airs now or plans to air which it feels will inform, as well as entertain, viewers below age 18, and must occasionally announce on-air that this public file is available to the public at the station's studios or on the station's website.
All children's television programming is subject to limits on the amount of advertising. Stations can air no more than 12 minutes of advertisements each hour on weekdays and 10½ minutes an hour on weekends.
In addition, the FCC also has a very strict policy that an advertisement for a product tie-in for the program being aired is not allowed in any form, or else the entire program will be classified automatically as a violating half-hour program length commercial according to the FCC's definition, even if one second of a show's character or reference is seen in an advertisement. The individual station has the responsibility to comply with the standards and regulations, and report instances of it happening within their quarterly children's programming report, even if the programming is transmitted by a television network.
This has been demonstrated through several incidents where episodes of Pokémon airing on the former Kids' WB block (which originated on The WB, before moving to The CW) featured references to products such as Eggo waffles, Fruit by the Foot, and the Nintendo Game Boy Nintendo e-Reader accessory mentioning their products having a tie-in to the Pokémon franchise on-air. The FCC has fined individual affiliates of The WB for the violation of the guidelines and upheld the fines on appeal, even though it was the television network which transmitted the content.
Meanwhile, promotion for related websites are allowed only under certain circumstances and must specify that the linked site is meant as an advertisement, and must be in compliance with the COPPA Act regarding personal information acquisition for advertisers online for children under thirteen years of age.
When the FCC announced the new requirements, local stations tried to repackage existing children's shows as educational and informational, such as Hearst Television distributing Cappelli & Company, a children's program from its Pittsburgh station WTAE-TV across that station group, while Sinclair Broadcast Group aired (Girl) Scouting Today from WPGH-TV (also based in Pittsburgh) on many of the chain's stations across the country to meet E/I requirements. The FCC turned down many of the requests. On the other hand, producers of true educational shows suddenly found a new market for their products, and reruns of shows like New Zoo Revue and Big Blue Marble suddenly became available on small-scale independent stations, which normally air religious shows, infomercials and home shopping programs. However, enforcement remains somewhat capricious: KDOC-TV, an independent station in Irvine, California and Fox affiliate WLUK-TV in Green Bay, Wisconsin have both been allowed to count reruns of the 1970s television series Little House on the Prairie as an E/I show, due to its historical depiction of frontier life in the 19th century and its connection to the popular elementary-school book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, though the show was not originally intended for that purpose (WLUK discontinued Little House in September 2013 due to shifts in its weekday schedule). Pax TV's talent showcases (America's Most Talented Kids) and animal rescue documentaries (Miracle Pets) were also counted toward the "E/I" requirement, with Pax giving them an unofficial and not binding "rating" of "TV E/I". More recently, in the late 2000s, the teen-oriented Canadian drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation and Edgemont were sold into U.S. syndication (with stations often omitting certain episodes) to be used to count towards E/I quotas, because of their depiction of teen social issues such as bullying and sexual identity.
Likewise, PBS's PBS Kids block, Ion Television's Qubo (both the standalone digital multicast channel and program block), and the Trinity Broadcasting Network's Smile of a Child digital subchannel network feature educational programming throughout their schedules, and those the latter two networks as well as the PBS children's block display their E/I bugs across most programming, including program promotions and pledge appeals. Because of the large amount of E/I programming seen on PBS stations, which is well over the guidelines in most cases, public television subchannel networks such as Create and World do not carry their own blocks of E/I programming within their main network feeds (this is a similar case with Qubo and parent network Ion Television's other subchannel services, Ion Life and Ion Shop, as well as QVC and the Home Shopping Network, which both lease subchannel space on Ion's stations).
Many of the Discovery Kids network's programs also included an E/I bug, and likewise its successors, the Hub Network and Discovery Family, use E/I bugs and program guide metadata, even though the channel is available strictly on cable and satellite, possibly to have the programs stand out in the children's sections of electronic program guide listings search applications as having E/I content; however some programs, such as My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Littlest Pet Shop and Pound Puppies, have dropped the E/I mark in subsequent seasons to accommodate references and plots which appeal both to children and My Little Pony's unusually sizeable adult audience. Cable networks are exempt from federal regulations regarding E/I programming, and mainly their contributions which meet E/I have been limited in recent years to the decline of the Cable in the Classroom initiative or selling archive programming through online educational portals.
In the case of the Big Three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and their affiliates, they eventually replaced their traditional Saturday morning cartoon lineup with E/I-compliant programming, usually by forming a partnership with another company. For example, Discovery Kids originally presented a Saturday morning, E/I-friendly block on NBC from 2002 to 2006. In 2006, parent company NBC Universal along with Ion Television and others formed the multi-platform Qubo to air children's programs on NBC, Telemundo, and a separate digital subchannel network usually found on the second digital channel of most Ion stations; Qubo was replaced by a time-leased block provided by PBS Kids Sprout called NBC Kids (along with an accompanying Spanish language block on Telemundo called MiTelemundo) in July 2011. In September 2011, ABC replaced its ABC Kids lineup (which by then only featured a limited pool of older episodes of Disney Channel Original Series which had remained unupdated for years) with Litton Entertainment's Weekend Adventure, which is under a unique syndication agreement with ABC. CBS replaced its block in 2006 with one from DiC Entertainment, which in subsequent years has become a part of Cookie Jar Group, and is later became known as Cookie Jar TV; this block was replaced by another block produced by Litton Entertainment called the CBS Dream Team in September 2013.
Both of 21st Century Fox's networks, Fox and MyNetworkTV, leave virtually all of the E/I burden to the affiliates themselves, and those stations must purchase E/I-complaint programming off the open syndication market from providers such as Steve Rotfeld Productions (Rotfeld's Xploration Station serves Fox's owned-and-operated stations), Entertainment Studios, Connection III Entertainment, Associated Television International, Telco Productions or Litton Entertainment. During the run of Fox Kids and the later time-leased 4Kids TV blocks, only an hour to half-hour of programming time was set aside in those blocks for E/I content. The CW has only maintained one hour of E/I content in its Vortexx block as well as its predecessors Toonzai and CW4Kids, although in previous years its predecessor Kids' WB carried the full federal minimum. Spanish language network Univision provides a full E/I schedule via its Planeta U block, which features licensed Nick Jr. programming with the program's Spanish dub track meant for Nickelodeon's Latin America networks.
Exemptions from the rule are rarely allowed by the FCC beyond unusual weather or breaking news situations which force stations to cover that rather than meet guidelines; Olympic Games and Ryder Cup coverage from NBC was adjusted so that its qubo block could air in some form throughout the week for their stations to receive their E/I credit, while the ABC Kids lineup aired on Saturday afternoon instead on the network due to early morning coverage of The British Open/Open Championship in early July through 2009 (it has since moved to ESPN wholly as of 2010), or on the Pacific Time Zone on Sunday mornings due to early ESPN College Football coverage on Saturday mornings (because it is structured as a syndication block, ABC stations now opt to reschedule the successor Litton's Weekend Adventure block on any available weekend timeslot where sports programming is not scheduled); likewise the NBC Kids lineup began to be split between Saturday and Sunday in eastern markets beginning in August 2013 due to NBC's coverage of the English Premier League's late Saturday (early afternoon in the United States) games. According to FCC records, TBN has received exemptions for their stations in the past due to their Praise-a-Thon telethons.
Digital subchannel networks may also provide the required E/I programming for their stations such as various programming on the Retro Television Network, Live Well Network, Antenna TV, Me-TV and This TV providing E/I programming on their channels (in the latter two cases, programming originally produced for the Chicago flagship station of the networks' owner Weigel Broadcasting, since limited to Me-TV due to This TV's ownership transfer to Tribune Broadcasting in November 2013). Effectively this is almost a requirement for subchannel carriage by most stations, which would rather have the E/I programming within the network schedule rather than having to purchase and run E/I programming on their own. However in the case of test subchannels carrying only SMPTE color bars or a still screen featuring station identification text, the E/I requirements do not apply in these situations.
The now-defunct NBC Weather Plus aired Weather Plus University, an educational program about weather and meteorology, whilst continuing to show current weather conditions inside its trademark "L-bar" on the left and bottom sides of the screen. Independent local weather subchannels, such as the Stormcenter 2 24/7 channel on WBAY-DT2 in Green Bay, Wisconsin balanced out the requirements of the new rules by airing educational programming while airing the station's regular newscast on WBAY's main channel in order to keep viewers informed about the weather and meet the E/I needs of their license (in that case at 5 p.m. weekdays and Saturday mornings at 8 a.m.); in September 2012; those three hours were moved to WBAY's DT3 channel affiliated with the Live Well Network, which carries six hours of E/I content per week to allow the weather subchannel to carry 24/7 coverage. Some other stations however pulled digital subchannels entirely due to the regulations, such as WPRI/WNAC in Providence, Rhode Island making their digital weather channel cable-only to get around the regulations.
Currently affiliates of The Local AccuWeather Channel must provide their own E/I programming, thus disallowing them from carrying the data feed for that channel in most cases for that channel for the three hours.
The Tube Music Network, which carried the program Wildlife Jams to meet the E/I guidelines, ceased operations on October 1, 2007. A factor in the network's demise may have been a decision by Sinclair Broadcast Group to reduce their E/I liability; stations in the group have in the past been cited in media studies as carrying the absolute minimum of E/I programming possible. Sinclair launched the network on its stations in March 2006, and then pulled the network from all of its stations at the end of 2006 because of various new FCC requirements for digital subchannels, not only for E/I, but also for the Emergency Alert System, along with the digital transition making coordination of E/I programming difficult at the time. Sinclair resumed airing non-netlet subchannels in September 2010 with the launch of carriage of both TheCoolTV (which was removed in August 2012) and ZUUS Country, which provide the requisite Saturday morning E/I programming within their transmission feeds, and most station groups now maintain centralized master control centers, making airing a set of E/I programs easier across a large geographical area.
All programming that is to count toward E/I requirements must air between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. local time (this has the unintended consequence of making the weekday cartoons that aired during the 6 to 7 a.m. hour, before children left for school, no longer viable for reaching a general audience; by 7 a.m. in many places, children have already boarded school buses). The law allows networks to air E/I programming in the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. time slot on weekdays despite the fact that most children five years of age and older are at school. Taking advantage of this loophole, some commercial stations interested only in malicious compliance with the regulations show E/I programming only during this time slot (often going further and tent-poling their E/I shows with infomercials before and after so that they are almost certain to be overlooked).
The three remaining major networks to provide E/I content, ABC, CBS and NBC, air their E/I programs in what was traditionally the last half of the Saturday-morning cartoon block, with the first half being devoted to morning shows, both national and local. The tighter requirements have partly led to a shift in the type of children's programming seen on broadcast television and in syndication; although the FCC does not place requirements in regards to whether the program is animated or live action, an increasing amount of E/I programs seen in syndication and on network television are live action, unscripted programs (compared to the animation-dominant formats of children's programming that existed up until the late 1990s), whose educational content value often comes in the form of wildlife, health, job study or travel-related content.
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- O'Connor, John J. (March 8, 1993). "Review/Television; For Young Audiences, Reality in the Afternoon". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
- FCC: Consumer Facts about Children's TV
- Form "FCC KidVid 398" (Quarterly Children's Programming Report) Filing Database by call letters
- American Public Television: Distribution Services (includes E/I info)